A team of scientists from Miguel Hernandez University, the Netherlands Institute of Neuroscience and the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah have successfully created a form of artificial vision for a blind woman with a brain implant. The findings represent a step forward for scientists hoping to create a visual brain prosthesis to enhance the independence of the blind.
A microelectrode array, which consists of 100 microneedles, was implanted into the visual part of the brain of a blind woman. These microneedles stimulate the neurons that are close to the electrodes. The woman was given glasses with a built-in small video camera that collected visual data. This data was sent to electrodes located in the brain. Then the matrix created “phosphenes” – the white points of light that are needed to create the image.
The blind woman is a retired science teacher and had been completely blind for 16 years at the time of the study. She had no complications after surgery, and the researchers determined that the implant did not impair brain function. With the help of the implant, she was able to identify lines, shapes and simple letters caused by various stimulation patterns. To help her practice with her prosthesis, the researchers created a video game featuring a character from the popular TV show The Simpsons.
“These results are very interesting because they demonstrate both safety and effectiveness and can help fulfill the long-held dream of many scientists, which is to transfer information from the outside world directly to the visual cortex of blind people, thereby restoring the rudimentary form of vision. While these preliminary results are very encouraging, we must be aware that there are still a number of important unanswered questions and that many problems need to be addressed before a cortical prosthesis can be considered a viable clinical therapy. ” – said Professor Eduardo Fernandez.
The research team hopes that further work will use a more advanced image coding system that can simultaneously stimulate a large number of electrodes and convey visual images more clearly and in more detail.
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